By Dr. Carrie Carter, MD
'Twas a nightmare 'round Christmas
'cause dangers abound
for each little child
when the holidays are 'round...
You’re a good parent—you’re careful to childproof your home to keep little fingers away from electrical outlets, and dangerous items out of reach. But we all face a new set of dangers every holiday season when we have young children; dangers which change each year based on your child’s temperament, age, and stage of development.
Children are energized by the excitement, wonder, and frenzy all around them. But with that extra energy comes issues of safety. This is the time of year to enjoy the sights and sounds of a joyous holiday season—not the sights and sounds of a trip to the emergency room. Let’s look at many ways you can safeguard your children during this special season.
Deck the Halls (But Keep the Decorations Out of Reach)
Wow! What child doesn’t want to see, taste, and touch those amazing decorations that suddenly appear in the living room? Who can blame them—bright colored lights, tempting packages, and shiny, sparkly ornaments are there begging to be touched! Depending on the age and stage of your child, you may have to erect a barricade or “fence in” the tree and trimmings to keep their little fingers out of reach. (Some parents put their Christmas tree in a playpen – for this time of year, instead of keeping the child in, it keeps the child out!)
Be especially careful during the decorating process. If you leave boxes of ornaments on the ground, your child may grab sharp objects in the tempting box and be injured. Beware using ladders with toddlers under foot. Many parents find it is wisest to decorate after kiddos are in bed for the night. The same plan works best when it is time to take all the decorations down.
My Favorite Things
Certain years you may want to scale back your decorating, because it is impossible to keep everything you like to display out of your child’s reach. This is the time to pick your favorite things—the things that say “Christmas” to you and each member of the family – then leave the rest packed away for a later year. A bonus to this type of decorating is less to take down after the holidays!
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Obviously, you have the best control over what your child can and cannot get into if you are home for Christmas. But beware the dangers that still come when the celebration is at your house…
'Tis the time for entertaining with hot cider, hot coffee, and hot chocolate. But unfortunately, ‘tis also the time when children may grab these hot drinks off countertops, tables and hearths, and suffer moderate to even severe burns. Toddlers can also perform the old “pull the table cloth off the table” trick, which can bring many hot or heavy items tumbling down on your toddler. For these early years, decorate with table runners or placemats rather than full cloths that hang over table edges.
Foods you serve guests, like nuts or hard candies, are a choking hazard for children under three years. Keep them well out of reach, or better yet, choose something else to serve.
Even the best houseguests can unintentionally leave hazardous items within your child’s reach. If they do not currently live with young children, guests may not realize that your toddler can grab the cord of that hot curling iron and suffer burns when it falls on him, or that their brightly colored pills or non-childproof capped bottles of cologne, liquid medicine, and other poisonous toiletries are enticing to many young children. If you do not already have the phone number for your local poison control center taped near the phone, please do this as soon as possible.
To Grandmother’s House We Go...
I know firsthand how difficult it is to keep your child safe in someone else’s home. Our son, Robert, was a rambunctious, nearly four-year-old when we traveled ten hours by car to “Grandmother’s house” for Christmas. Robert was more animated than usual when we arrived, and it was cold outside, so I decided to play with him in the living room to help him get his energy out. We were not there for an hour when it happened: his forehead went “clunk” as it hit the edge of Grandma’s new coffee table. And this “clunk” required several stitches.
At midnight, as we waited for our turn in the ER waiting room, I was so angry with myself! I was the one romping with him on the floor, and I had not scouted out the obvious danger before it was too late. True, the accident might still have happened, but I also knew that I could have prevented this injury. If I had noticed the edges of the table were so sharp, I would have asked if we could move the table out of his direct path or put cushions in front of the edges.
It is hard to anticipate every danger, and hard to ask your host to rearrange the furniture to ensure your child’s safety. But it is better to tactfully ask to help make the environment safe for your child, than to all live with a bad outcome.
And one last urgent point about safety when visiting others: Find out if there is a swimming pool or accessible pond where you are staying or visiting. Is there a locked fence completely surrounding it? Or is there a special pool cover on that prevents drowning? Too many children have been lost in this tragic way, especially when there is much activity or celebration underway.
I’m Dreaming of a Safe Holiday Season...
I long for you to have the joyous Christmas season you envision, not marred by preventable injuries or tragic incidents.
Merry Christmas and have a blessed New Year!